Tel Aviv’s invisible pain


The aged Brutalism of Tel Aviv’s 1960s architecture juts out like a former boxer turned referee, mediating amid old sun-scorched shanties vs. the rise of sleek towers. The new, glass skyscrapers emerge like sudden victors, forgetting the elders below, casting a shadow on the debilitated invalids.


Brutalism, an architectural style made of bold lines formed in aggressive concrete, is an apt metaphor for Tel Aviv. After all, it''s a city born in a period when the young state was surrounded by aggression (actual brutality) from all sides. Even the wind and surf from the sea, pound against it.


Famous architects known for their Brutalism like Ram Karmi led the design of the city.  A predecessor of his and an American, Paul Rudoph, influenced this era of the 60s by reflecting the agitated state of that period by pitting his buildings against one another.  At the campus of U-Mass / Dartmouth his vision captured the struggle inherent between art and science by endowing his creations with angles that punch and jab, tearing at the skyline with harsh strikes.


Torn down and destroyed, some of the Brutalism in Tel Aviv is now gone in order to make way for those monuments of capitalism. Yet, while many of the tough old champs are cleared out of the way for ladders dreamily leading heavenward, an anesthetized pain lurks in its wake.


Just as a soldier who loses a limb still feels it as a phantom, eliminating Tel Aviv’s Brutal architecture, won’t clear away the memory of the brutality in its past.


Today, I met my old friend and her little girl by the port of the city.  We relaxed and kicked back.  We reminisced about old friends from years ago.  But after mixing dirt about them, I needed to look up, away and change the subject.  I asked her about Israel and the threat that constantly exists.  She indicated it doesn’t affect us here in Tel Aviv. 

Among happy children playing, eating ice cream and their doting parents following close by, her blunt remark aligned with my perception on the ground currently surrounding us.


But I wondered, if the brutality of the past, that marked a seam between the old Israel and the new thriving economy truly disappearing,  then is the hostile threat that blew up busses only a half-a-generation ago, now gone?  Or like so much brutality, will it forever haunt?


Writing from Israel this week, Abe Novick can always be reached at [email protected]